Friday, September 9, 2016

Southwest France (Bordeaux to the Spanish Border)

We took the scenic route from Amboise through Perigueux to Bordeaux enjoying the countryside and lack of traffic. We stopped in Perigueux for lunch. Note: We think of Perigueux as the namesake for the Perigord, also called Dordogne, region which is renowned for it’s cuisine. Hence how could we resist a stop there?

We were a bit late for the top rated restaurants that close by 1:30and settled for what appeared to be a more local/ touristy place. The food was outstanding, Pat had duck confit with chips (very thick slices of potato) and Bill had salmon with risotto. We shared a half-bottle of Domaine de la Roulètiere Vouvray demo-sec. After lunch we strolled around Perigueux for a short time before heading to Bordeaux. Pat loved the many culinary oriented shops. And we both would have loved hanging around a few more days. Maybe next time.
Duck confit with chips
Upon arriving in Bordeaux we dropped the bags in the apartment and the car in the claustrophobia inducing parking garage and then headed out looking for snacks for the evening and breakfast. We got distracted when we stopped at the ever so cleverly named “The Wine Bar” for a glass of wine.  3.5 glasses of wine each and 4 tapas later we no longer needed an evening snack and were too late to find breakfast fixings. The wine bar was interesting but not really what we had hoped for. Their focus was on learning about wines in general rather than local wines. They served everything “blind” and you had to discuss it before they would reveal the details. We were looking for a place to taste a range of Bordeaux wines. But we made do...

Next morning we walked a few minutes down the street to a local cafe. An apple filled pastry (Bill) and an apricot tart (Pat) made for a nice breakfast. Afterwards we went to a local shopping center and found pastries and other breakfast necessities for having breakfast “in”.

Later, wandering our way toward the river, we encountered a wine tasting shop (Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery) and enjoyed sampling wines from Bordeaux's left and right bank regions (Lalande de Pomerol, St Emillon, Saint Julien and Haut-Médoc). The staff was very knowledgeable and helpful. Highly recommended.
Chart from the wall of Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery. Consider the two lines as the local rivers.
The larger words represent the broader wine regions, the smaller words the very specific appellations.
We then moved on for lunch at La Table Bordelais 33 where we ordered the "fish for 2", which basically means we got 2 fish plates for a lesser price than having purchased them separately. Nice. We chose trout and seabass (both whole). They came with salad, potato AND rice. Having just completed our little wine tasting we limited ourselves to a half bottle of white Bordeaux. 

We finally reached the river and took a few photos around the "water mirror”, a flat fountain that releases water in different patterns for different effects. On a hot day folks enjoying walking / wading / playing in the water….leaving little mirror effect. Still, it was nice. 

We wandered back to our apartment, stopping briefly in the local Apple Store (just because we always love that environment).

After a break we headed out to explore more Bodeaux wines, returning to the wine tasting gallery. After trying two whites, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and La Clarté de Haute-Brion, we treated ourselves to some of the best (Chateau La Consieillante 2000 Pomerol; Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 2007 and a Chateau Margaux 1997), preferring the Pomerol

Following our strenuous wine tasting, we headed to La Bistro du Picador...This is a gem.  True Spanish tapas from a Spanish family. We only had the "patatas bravas" and the "calamari a la plancha” but both were great. Actually the calamari was amazing. For Pat it was up there as one of the best ever tastes. Lobster tail will probably always be numero uno but the calamari was close in providing the perfect taste experience. Bill isn't into seafood so much but he thought this was indeed special. And the potatoes were very nicely fried with the perfect amount of sauce on top. We topped this off with a delightful Coupe Manzana - apple sorbet with apple liquor. 

Calamari a la plancha, oh so good...
Saturday we drove through the Medoc, the left bank. Getting out of Bordeaux city and into the wine country. We were somewhat surprised at how much of the area was industrialized with wine related services but we finally reached the real wine country, the villages of Margaux and Pauillac, and the well known Chateaux (Margaux, Latour, Lynch-Bages, Beychevelle, and Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Bill’s favorite from back in the day when we had better access to wines from this area). Along the way we stopped at Fort Médoc (from the late 1600’s) for a view across the river to neighboring forts.
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 

Next up: we stopped in Bages, home of Chateau Lynch Bages, for lunch. We had to wait a bit for a table so we did a little shopping at Bazaar Bages buying two bottles of wine and wine book. Lunch was at Cafe Lavinal, owned by the Lynch group it seems. Pat had veal kidney, a HUGE portion, and Bill had lamb. Both excellent with the Chateau Branaire Ducru 2007 Saint Julien.

We returned to the apartment and later returned to El Picador for more tapas  (calamari frites and tortilla espanola (think of it as a potato quiche but know that it is a traditional Spanish tapas dish) and a bottle of Chateau La Rose Cotes Rol, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2011. The temptation was too much so we added dessert, Coupe Manzana for Pat and Profiteroles for Bill. (Note: “Coupe” is pretty much the European name for ice cream sundaes.)
Calmari frites and tortilla espanola
Sunday we are off to visit our long-time friend Jeanne and her husband Geoff who now live in more-or-less nearby Pujols. First we stopped by the newly-opened, architecturally outstanding Cité du Vin in Bordeaux for a photo. They were doing some dredging in the river and the day was a bit grey, so taking photos was a bit challenging.  Fortunately we had a brochure…and hence the following photo.

Our photo, not so bad really...
Photo copied from the brochure of Cité du Vin
We then continued on to wine town of St Emillion to explore the town and have some lunch.  The town was very active being that it was Sunday and most of the wine shops were open for tastings. After wandering around town we chose an Italian restaurant, Pizzeria du Vieux Lavoie, for lunch and had a prosciutto and arugula pizza with a 1/2 bottle of Chateau Bernateau 2010 (St Emilion Grand Cru). Thanks to our server for the fine recommendation.
Three of the many wine shops
View over Saint Emilion to some local vineyards

Continuing on towards Pujols we stopped in Duras, a small town and toured their local castle. Originally erected in the twelfth century, the castle was turned into a fortress in 14C by the nephew of Pope Clement who provided “holy” support. But it was then plundered and partially destroyed during the Hundred Years Wall (1337-1453)…seems like they needed a better Fortress designer….

Interior shots at Duras Castle (armor-above) and the kitchen (below)

Pujols is a charming hilltop village with medieval houses. It is officially (and truly) one of the 'most beautiful villages of France’. We arrived there as Jeanne was finishing her day at the local Museum of Rustic Toys (Maison du Jouet Rustique - see more about this below). After a short greeting she sent us to a little art fair and to see some local work and meet & chat with the artists in broken Franglais. It turns out that one of the artists will be visiting Queretaro (near San Miguel) in January!!

We had a light repast of foix gras, gazpacho, and roasted vegetables along with a bottle of 2012 Cheteau Beycheville that we had bought in Bordeaux. The Ch Beycheville was purchased specifically to go with foix gras. We also tried an ice wine from Jeanne and Geoff with the fox gras. Ice wine or sauternes is the more traditional choice for foix gras. We felt that both worked very well.

After our snack we walked to a local gelato shop and had caramel (Bill) and green tomato, lemon, basil (Pat), both were excellent.

Monday morning dawned with clear sky but soon turned foggy. By midday it was clearing again and we headed for Penne d’Agenais to explore, visit the church (Notre-Dame de Peyragude), and have lunch. This is a pilgrimage church on the Route to Santiago de Compostela (Spain). It dates from 11C  after a starving young shepherdess received an apparition of the Virgin Mary who gave her food and a image of herself. That image, maybe 12” tall is featured over an altar in the church.

Being Monday, we had few options for lunch, but it turns out the little Brasserie in the town center was fine. Bill had scallops and Pat had risotto. We tried a bottle of Berticot Sauvignon from Duras, quite good. After lunch Geoff biked back to Pujols while Jeanne toured us around more delightful villages. 

But first we stopped for some photos of a sunflower field near Saint Vite. Pat has been trying to get for such a photo for years, but usually the sun isn’t out, the flowers are too far away, or the flowers have moved on to reach their destiny as sunflower seeds. Finally, success!

We next visited Gavaudun where we hiked through the forest to a ruined church in the town of Lot-et-Garonne. We then continued to another hilltop village, Biron, to see the local Chateau. We passed by yet another castle along the way.
Biron Castle (above & below)

Church in Pujols: Lot-et-Garonne
We returned to the house after picking up some cheese and bread for our evening snack. Outside the grocery store, we had to checkout the milk stand (milk vending machine). Pick your bottle size, and your style of milk and “Voila”, your milk ready to go.

For our evening meal, Jeanne added some fresh green beans, more gazpacho, and grilled vegetables to go with the cheese and bread. For wine: Echo, the second label of Lynch-Bages that we had picked up while in the Pauillac. 

Before leaving Pujols, Jeanne provided us a personal tour of the Maison du Jouet Rustique. This is a extensive collection of simple (but impressive) handmade toys that was left to the town.  The collection includes games, puzzles, musical instruments, …  And Jeanne is right in her element showing them off. And at the end, after demonstrating a magical item, she even trained us and gave us our own to share with others. Sorry. No hints on this.  But you can ask us to perform the magic for you when we see you.

Toys (above) and a puzzle of nails (below) from Maison du Jouet Rustique

Then we were off to the fortified town of Carcassonne. We wandered around the town and stopped for a bowl of cassoulet. The place was very touristy, all shops (with some nice “stuff”) and restaurants but we managed a few photos of the fortress and the Cassoulet at L’Adelaide was good as was the 50cl of local red wine. 
Views of Carcasonne (above & below)

Cassoulet (beans with duck confit and sausage)
We continued on to Perpignan (on the Mediterranean coast). After settling into our room, we asked for a recommendation for a Wine Bar. Without a blink Anne-Sophie suggested a Via del Vi run by Roman (the wine guy) and his wife (the chef). They were very good at pairing local wines with the small plates we selected. Both wine and food were excellent. It was so good, we made reservations for the next evening.

In our minds our next stop is in Catalunya (Costa Brava, Barcelona, …) but while eating and chatting with Roman we learned that we were already there. The Catalan culture and language blend French and Spanish traditions and is not spans the border between the two official countries. And sure enough, we began to notice that many signs here are in both Catalan and French.

In the morning we were off to Collioure, a popular beach town. A nice, small village with lots of shops and restaurants along with a fortress, windmill, beaches and tourists. We explored the market, walked the narrow streets and then out to the Jetty (on the east side of town) before lunch. Then we stopped at at Casa Leon for seafood lunch. Daurada (Bream) for Bill and anchovies for Pat with a white Collioure wine, a blend of ganache gris blanc, rousanne, marsanne and vermentino that worked well with the fish. After lunch we walked around the beaches and to points on the west side of town. We then took a late afternoon break enjoying some more local wine before heading back to Perpignan by train. 
Products from the market

Views of Collioure

The evening brought another trip to Via del Vi. Some excellent beet puré, sautéed gnocchi, and a small charcuterie platter before the chocolate dessert. Two red wines from the area and two dessert wines completed the meal.

We took a short stroll around lovely small city of Perpignan in the morning, viewing the Castillet, their mini-castle, and the Cathedral.  

Along the way we saw a chap waiting for lunch....  Actually this is a good marketing gimmick. As I moved closer to take a photo I noticed lovely aromas wafting out the door. If we weren't on our way to a highly recommended brasserie, who knows?

la Figuiers is another local gem recommended by the staff at the NYX. The white Rousanne wine, C25 from Mas de Rey, went very well with the escalivada (vegetable confit, a local speciality), fig salad, and scallops.  And the coeur coulant chocolat (yum) with the Mas Champs port style wine was another fine combination.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to fetch the bags and on to the train to Girona (Gerona for those who speak Catalan).

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